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Contribution of Afferent Feedback to Adaptive Hindlimb Walking in Cats: A Neuromusculoskeletal Modeling StudyMammalian locomotion is generated by central pattern generators (CPGs) in the spinal cord, which produce alternating flexor and extensor activities controlling the locomotor movements of each limb. Afferent feedback signals from the limbs are integrated by the CPGs to provide adaptive control of locomotion. Responses of CPG-generated neural activity to afferent feedback stimulation have been previously studied during fictive locomotion in immobilized cats. Yet, locomotion in awake, behaving animals involves dynamic interactions between central neuronal circuits, afferent feedback, musculoskeletal system, and environment. To study these complex interactions, we developed a model simulating interactions between a half-center CPG and the musculoskeletal system of a cat hindlimb. Then, we analyzed the role of afferent feedback in the locomotor adaptation from a dynamic viewpoint using the methods of dynamical systems theory and nullcline analysis. Our model reproduced limb movements during regular cat walking as well as adaptive changes of these movements when the foot steps into a hole. The model generates important insights into the mechanism for adaptive locomotion resulting from dynamic interactions between the CPG-based neural circuits, the musculoskeletal system, and the environment.Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 8, 2023
Neuronal circuits in the spinal cord are essential for the control of locomotion. They integrate supraspinal commands and afferent feedback signals to produce coordinated rhythmic muscle activations necessary for stable locomotion. For several decades, computational modeling has complemented experimental studies by providing a mechanistic rationale for experimental observations and by deriving experimentally testable predictions. This symbiotic relationship between experimental and computational approaches has resulted in numerous fundamental insights. With recent advances in molecular and genetic methods, it has become possible to manipulate specific constituent elements of the spinal circuitry and relate them to locomotor behavior. This has led to computational modeling studies investigating mechanisms at the level of genetically defined neuronal populations and their interactions. We review literature on the spinal locomotor circuitry from a computational perspective. By reviewing examples leading up to and in the age of molecular genetics, we demonstrate the importance of computational modeling and its interactions with experiments. Moving forward, neuromechanical models with neuronal circuitry modeled at the level of genetically defined neuronal populations will be required to further unravel the mechanisms by which neuronal interactions lead to locomotor behavior.